This was my first encounter with "postmortem photography".
The invention of the dagguereotype in 1839 allowed those who couldn't afford a painted portrait to have a lasting image of family and loved ones. Death in Victorian times was an ever-present reality, especially since infant and child mortality was incredibly high. A photograph of the deceased might be the single lasting visual memento; the body, posed with living members, the only "family group" photo that would ever exist. It wasn't considered macabre, or even unusual. Prints might be sent out to family and friends unable to attend the funeral rites.
Dr. Stanley B. Burns, a New York City opthamologist, established something called The Burns Archive in 1977. The archive is a trove of photos and information on the darker side of medicine including anatomical and medical oddities, post-mortem photography, and photographs of death, disease, disaster, and war. Dr. Burns authored Sleeping Beauty: Memorial Photography In America , a comprehensive and exhaustively researched collection of post-mortem photography.
I am always willing to keep an open mind, approach any topic, and change my opinion. During a discussion with friends, someone brought up situations that I hadn't considered. What about the parents of a child who was stillborn? They would have no other option if they wanted an image of their beloved child. Is it really so awful to take a photograph at life's end, to complete the circle? Should we take our cue from earlier generations and move back toward making death an accepted and natural part of life? Is postmortem photography creepy, sad, or another way to hold on to departed loved ones for just a little while longer?